OGDEN -- This rivalry is about to get rebooted.
Weber State and Southern Utah have met 17 times over the years, the last time in 2006, but today marks the final time the Wildcats and Thunderbirds will meet as non-conference opponents.
SUU officially joins the Big Sky Conference on July 1, 2012, making today's 4 p.m. contest at Stewart Stadium the first of what will become an annual showdown for in-state FCS supremacy. Once in the expanded 14-team Big Sky, the Cedar City-based T-Birds will be one of two league-designated rivals (with Idaho State) to appear on the Wildcats' schedule every year.
Weber State coach Ron McBride has a grand vision for what 'Cats-'Birds rivalry could become.
"I could see in the next couple of years that this thing with Southern Utah will be a huge game in the state," McBride said. "I could see them possibly moving the game to a central site where both sides of the ball, the fans could get there and make it convenient for both sides. I could see it becoming a real windfall for both programs as far as financially and every other way because they have a very good team and I think they're going to continue to have a good team. It should be a positive for the conference and it should be a positive outcome for both schools."
Former Southern Utah receiver and grad assistant Matt Hammer is Weber State's offensive coordinator. The Wildcats lead the all-time series against SUU 14-3 and WSU is asking fans to wear black today for its annual Blackout game.
Sophomore defensive end Curtis Cosgrove played at Box Elder High and considered going to SUU before committing to the Wildcats (3-3, 3-1 Big Sky).
"It's a good opportunity to show (Southern Utah) what the Big Sky is all about," Cosgrove said. "We take a lot of pride in the Big Sky, that it's a tough conference, so it gives us a chance to show them what they're going to be facing for the next however many years."
Cosgrove is well aware coach Ed Lamb's T-Birds defeated UNLV of the Mountain West Conference on Sept. 24.
SUU (3-4, 0-3 Great West Conference) has lost three straight coming into today by a total of 15 points.
Other in-state games for Weber State, like this year's blowout loss to Utah State and next season's upcoming contest at BYU, come with the caveat that their FBS opponent has more scholarships and bigger budgets to compete with. Southern Utah, in the same conference and at the same level, will be on a more even playing field.
Cosgrove sums it up like this: "No excuses."
McBride says he's familiar with the Thunderbirds players as well.
"I know most of the kids that play down there, I watched them in high school," McBride said. "They've done a good job of developing the talent down there. They've got a nice football team."
And today's game will set the tone for recruiting battles between the two schools in the coming years.
Today's battle for Weber State, however, will be to stop SUU junior quarterback Brad Sorensen, a BYU transfer who has the T-Birds ranked 10th in the country in passing offense. Individually, Sorensen is 11th in the nation in total offense (283.7 yards per game). Freshman Brady Measom leads the team in receptions and is also a punt returning threat, ranked seventh in the country with an average of 14.6 yards per return.
Layton High product Willie Harris has some extra motivation when he gets on the field against SUU's offense.
"I sent them some tape and they said you're a good player, but you're just too small," the junior linebacker said. "But every school in Utah said that so I was getting used to it by that point. Weber State offered me the chance so I came up here and proved myself even though I was undersized."
Harris played prep football with T-Birds wide receiver Matt Putnam at Layton High and remembers playing against Tyler Osborne, a product of Weber High.
"We've just got to show who the best team in Utah is, especially at the (FCS) level," Harris said.